New faces, but old issues facing Miami in 2012
The starting quarterback, gone. The team’s most productive
runner in a decade, gone. The top two receivers, gone. The best
defensive player and unquestioned locker-room leader, gone.
Still, somehow, hope is not gone at Miami.
Even after a 6-6 season, and even with the NCAA investigation
into compliance practices that overshadowed last season still
unresolved – sanctions aren’t expected to be handed down until
early next year – the Hurricanes are heading into Al Golden’s
second year on the sideline insisting they have enough talent to
contend in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
”For us to get back to where we want to be in the college
football world, we can talk about everything and what the
expectations are and anything on the outside,” Golden said. ”But
the reality of it is, for us at the University of Miami, right
here, right now, there’s only one way out, and that’s the (ACC’s)
If that’s the case, the Hurricanes might still need some more
time to get things on the right road.
Miami has not won an ACC title since joining the league, and
hardly anyone expects that to change in 2012. The Hurricanes
finished in a tie for fourth in the Coastal last season at 3-5, and
were picked fifth in the six-team division in this year’s preseason
poll. That would have seemed unthinkable a decade ago, though this
team has serious questions to answer, and last year’s team wasn’t
exactly world-beaters to begin with.
”We want to set our mark,” said freshman defensive back Tracy
Howard, a highly touted recruit who signed with Miami despite the
looming NCAA issues and may wind up starting right away. ”We want
to be known as the guys who brought `The U’ back.”
On offense, there are new faces in key roles.
Stephen Morris starts the year having assumed the quarterback
role from Jacory Harris (2,486 yards, 20 touchdowns as a senior in
2011). Mike James becomes the featured running back now that Lamar
Miller (1,272 yards, nine TDs in his final college season) is with
the Miami Dolphins – though freshman back Randy ”Duke” Johnson
will likely see tons of carries by the time the season ends. Tommy
Streeter left early and Travis Benjamin graduated, a duo that
combined to catch 87 passes, 11 of them for touchdowns, last
Defensively, Sean Spence was widely considered Miami’s best
player for the past two seasons. He’s now with the Pittsburgh
Steelers, leaving the Hurricanes with a gaping hole at both
linebacker and leader. So it’s up to players like James to assume
the role, and he said the Hurricanes are clearly not the same time
they were a year ago.
”It feels different,” James said. ”It has to feel different.
It looks and feels different. Guys have a real competitive edge to
them. They know what we have to get done and they’re doing
Of all the newcomers, Johnson might be the most talked-about. He
was Florida’s high school ”Mr. Football” award winner last
season, after leading Miami Norland to a state championship and
piling up 266 all-purpose yards in the title game. Johnson had 208
carries as a senior; he averaged 10 yards on each of those.
”We do have to game plan and scheme for him to get some touches
and we have to figure out how, whatever he’s able to handle,”
Miami offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said this summer. ”But he’s
not coming in here in a capacity where he’s being given a job. He
has to earn it. We don’t give jobs based on high school
Morris beat another South Florida native, Memphis transfer Ryan
Williams, out for the first-string quarterback role. The offense –
and really, the direction of the season – is on Morris’ shoulders,
and he said he welcomes having that sort of responsibility.
”Everybody knows we’re not trying to have another 6-6 or 7-6
season,” Morris said. ”It’s not just what this program was built
on. We can’t be happy with another season like that. Our job is to
try to continue to do better.”
Miami imposed a bowl ban last season because of the ongoing NCAA
investigation that started into claims made by a former booster and
convicted Ponzi scheme architect who said he provided extra
benefits to athletes and recruits over an eight-year period. The
hits have kept coming since: A number of underclassmen left early,
and not long ago safety Ray-Ray Armstrong – one of the players
linked to that investigation – was dismissed from the program.
On top of that, this year’s schedule is daunting.
In the season’s first four weeks, Miami goes on the road to
Boston College, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The only home game
in that stretch is against lower-division Bethune-Cookman, a team
that gave the Hurricanes fits a year ago. Miami heads to Chicago to
face Notre Dame on Oct. 6, rekindling one of the college game’s top
And the only homestand of the season hardly shapes up as easy –
North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech to kick off the
second half of the schedule.
Golden said the ”football intelligence” of where the
Hurricanes are now is superior to a year ago. Time will tell if
that translates into more wins.
”I believe the system is better than 6-6 right now,” Golden
said. ”I just think we have to all be on the same page.”
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